Adjusting to life After Covid means living on constant alert | Life and style

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I’m gazing at the sea again. I don’t know when I started – when I pulled up that website with the photos of beaches, with the package deals and local attractions, and the pastry thing that you can only get in one particular village that must be reached by boat. I don’t know when I started, but in the time since I did, evening has come. When I think about holidays my brain splits neatly in two, one half dreaming and planning, memories paddling alongside fantasies, while the other half remains typically livid and confused, and quite at sea – though not in the good way.

It has become boggling to me, the idea that, once, I was able to simply plan a break. That our lives have now been so neatly delineated it’s possible to mark time as BC or AC, the before Covid period now remembered as a simple cruise through tree-lined boulevards, caressing strangers (consensually), laughing in offices, high-fiving (constantly). And now, well. Even the things that haven’t changed have changed, our own new, raw eyes seeing them in ungenerous and terrible lights.

It reminds me of the feelings I had when looking back at life before having a baby. The complete bafflement at the freedoms I’d enjoyed, and the deep fury at not having enjoyed them anywhere near enough. The big ones, sure, the travelling the worlds, the staying out all nights with strangers you fancy, the moving to San Franciscos with two weeks’ notice, yes, these almost go without saying. But the slighter ones were more painful to consider. The lying on the sofas of a Sunday, allowing a hangover to live expensively in your limbs, the having of just biscuits for dinner, the unbearable privilege of a bath. Living now in 2021 AC (though the concept of “after” threatens to remain a gesture for some time still) contains many such small agonies, and eternal recalibrations. Doing the old thing in a new time often leaves me breathless.

Yesterday, for example, I went to a gallery. Before Covid I would have taken my time, browsed the permanent displays, enjoyed a bit of a chat in front of a painting, emerged on to the street some hours later rich and bloated with art. Now I wheel a buggy through the one-way system, getting flashed at by statues stored in back rooms, and once inside the exhibition, float quickly from piece to piece to avoid encroaching on anybody’s breathing space. Though oddly invigorating, it feels more like swiping Instagram than engaging with an artist; a quick submersion, cold-water swimming.

All the time I was aware of the discomfort of real clothes, my body objecting to having been removed from its threadbare leisurewear, and still unsure of whether to hug a friend, and apologetic about leaning in too close to hear the ticket collector, having realised recently how much I previously relied on lip reading, and all the time a quiet alarm sounding in the very softest bit of my brain: alert, alert.

The most lasting change, I think, is the anxiety around illness. Living through this evolving pandemic has left many of us unsure of how to behave around germs, and by germs I mean other people. Sickness has taken on new meaning – we watch strangers coughing with a fresh, bloody horror. A light flickers on and off, stuttering its warning.

It becomes difficult to work out how to react; how to separate and moderate our behaviours around illness. Some concerns are large and life-shattering: the threat of a “cancer crisis” as the pandemic caused missed referrals, and a “mental health crisis” after a year of grief and loneliness is correctly worrying many. Some concerns are small and domestic, but carry with them sense memories of last winter. A cold is making its way around my daughter’s class right now, the kind of basic bitch virus nobody would even have bothered mentioning BC, the kind previously tempered with a toilet roll in the rucksack and an early night. Today though, it brings with it whispers and worries, hands washed down to the bone.

We are waiting for something, I realise, poised for awful news. Going to the doctor for anything other than an arm bitten off by wolves feels a bit previous, slightly hysterical. And yet at the same time we are screechingly vigilant to every new tiredness, every aching bone.

Life AC is stained with anxiety, some of it acceptable, much not. I watch the world open up with sharpened teeth and feet in concrete and I think about going away. Would it be selfish? Would it be the thing to fix us? Would we simply be decanting our domestic moaning to another town, without our lovely stuff there to soothe us? Would the thrill of travelling outweigh the worry of returning? Scrolling through old photos taken BC, I land on a series taken on the worst holiday of my life, one defined by storms and loss, and I sigh, simpler times.

Email Eva at e.wiseman@observer.co.uk or follow her on Twitter @EvaWiseman

Hafta Ichi
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Adjusting to life After Covid means living on constant alert | Life and style

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